Category Archives: workaway

How I Know My Neighbours Rock!

When your turkey gets nailed by a passing eagle, you discover who your friends are...

When your turkey gets nailed by a passing eagle, you discover who your friends are…

With the good weather, the grass is starting to grow again, so I’ve been letting the turkeys out of their smaller pen to roam and graze in the strip of grass between me and my neighbor’s place immediately to the north. Things have been going well over the past few weeks as the turkeys have settled into their new routine quite happily. The boys are in full display mode and the girls flirty and happy to accept the Toms’ advances.

I was up at the house just finishing up some computer work when someone banged on my office window and nearly gave me a heart attack! Carol, spattered with blood and holding a turkey hen in her arms stood outside looking like someone who has just had a run-in with a bald eagle. Turns out, she had just had a run-in with a bald eagle!!

She had a front row seat from her place as an eagle swooped down and pinned one of my good-sized hens to the ground. Carol raced outside to come to the hen’s rescue and despite yelling and waving her arms the eagle was very reluctant to relinquish its tasty lunch! When he finally did move, he didn’t go far and it sounds like it was seriously considering taking Carol on as she scooped up the injured bird and sprinted over to my place.

Fortunately, I was at home and with the assistance of my wonderful German volunteer farm helpers, was able to assess the damage. The skin had been torn off on the hen’s back, but that wound seemed fairly superficial. On her right side, though – a couple of puncture wounds from the eagle’s talons and a big piece of flesh ripped off and hanging on…

All things considered, there was very little blood – and the hen was alert and a bit indignant as I checked her over. She was panting and a bit shocky, but remarkably feisty considering her close brush with death. 

I called my other neighbor to the east, the Surgeon’s Wife who caught The Surgeon on his way home from work. He called me right back and stopped in at the local vet’s office to pick up a curved needle and a bit of suture thread on his way home. A few minutes later we had all convened in the Surgeon’s barnyard and made a makeshift operating table on the lid of our feed bin, pulled out into the late afternoon sun so as to take advantage of the light.

Flushing the puncture wounds left by the eagle's talons...

Flushing the puncture wounds left by the eagle’s talons…

The Surgeon donned gloves and flushed out the puncture wounds with hydrogen peroxide. SP (our most recent arrival from Germany) covered the bird’s head with a facecloth, and I held her firmly so we could see what we were doing. Before you could say, “Jeez, I have the best neighbours in the world!” the hen was all stitched up and slathered with antiseptic ointment. SP had already prepared a large dog crate with fresh bedding and a clean towel, the recovery ward for our lucky bird.

The Surgeon deftly tying fancy knots using a pair of pliers! We have a pact to stock up on suture supplies... we've been talking about it for ages and today was a great example why basic stitching materials are essential to have on hand.

The Surgeon deftly tying fancy knots using a pair of pliers! We have a pact to stock up on suture supplies… we’ve been talking about it for ages and today was a great example why basic stitching materials are essential to have on hand.

Stitching up the patient...

Stitching up the patient…

At least, I hope she will continue to recover. I checked on her an hour ago and she was actually up and walking around, looking steady on her feet, bright and perky in her demeanor. We shall see how she does overnight. If we get lucky and a terrible infection doesn’t set in, she might just survive the ordeal.

Whew! We were both glad when the field surgery was over and done with!

Whew! We were both glad when the field surgery was over and done with!

I can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who jumped in to help save the turkey hen. Keep your fingers crossed she will make a full recovery!

 

Shoehorning a Portable Hog Shelter Into a Horse Trailer – Where’s the Bear Grease?

After building the most lovely of hog shelters, MC and I had to figure out how to move it up to the road and into a vehicle for transport over to the new hog field at Maypenny Farm. We hitched the truck to the ‘tow bar’ on the hog hut and dragged it up the hill. Easy peasy! The heavy duty runners (built out of posts that once held up our old deck) slipped over the gravel like an Olympic skier skims through powder. Maybe not quite like that, but it was way easier than I thought it was going to be and the next thing I knew I was zipping around the block to pick up the horse trailer. Hitching was a snap with MC giving extremely accurate and precise hand signals (in Germany, there’s some sort of license specifically for anyone who wants to haul trailers around… part of the prep for taking the license test involves learning a very effective hitching communications system…). Before I knew it I was back up on the road in front of the house and had backed the trailer up to the hog hut… I was humming at this point, smugly thinking we were ahead of schedule. Hah!!

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Even with the metal roof off, it was quickly obvious just how tight a squeeze it was going to be to shoehorn the hog hut into the horse trailer.

If we had been lifting in something the size of a dog crate, we would have been laughing – a sixteenth of an inch on either side is plenty of wiggle room. When the structure in question weighs… well, a lot, it took some German ingenuity and lot of good humour to rig up a system to haul that sucker aboard.

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I kept finding myself thinking of the anonymous souls who used ramps and pulleys and levers and who knows what to build the pyramids and erect Stonehenge as we improvised a ramp using a couple of planks and attached a come-along to the tow bar of the hog hut at one end and the steel divider inside the trailer at the other. There followed an awful lot of pushing and heaving and ho-ing and grunting and levering to inch it up the planks until it wedged firmly against the back of the trailer frame.

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More shoving, wiggling, jiggling, prying, squeezing and cajoling followed until finally, the hut was persuaded to board the bus…

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At this point in the proceedings, the hog hut was well and truly jammed half in and half out of the trailer. Somewhere in behind the hut is a trapped German…

MC is 6′ 8″ tall and it was quite the feat of contortionism for him to squeeze past the stuck hut and escape… Our task was not yet complete, however. The hut was just a bit too long to shove all the way in without first removing the heavy steel divider to which the come-along had been fastened. More hammering, prying, lifting, and a bit of sweating followed before we were able to remove the divider and get it out of the way. The hut was so heavy and jammed in pretty tightly that we couldn’t budge it without help from the come-along. So… MC gallantly plunged under the horse trailer…

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He was able to fasten the come-along to the underside of the trailer frame and with a bit of cranking and more shoving we were able to squeeze that thing inside and shut the door! We were no longer ahead of schedule, but we were on our way. Little did we know what traumas awaited us at the other end where, we learned, loading the hog hut was going to be the easiest part of a very long day.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the “Let’s Get Those Hogs Moved” saga…

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Community Farming!

I have to say that since I embarked upon this farming endeavour of mine, I have been shocked and delighted to discover how social farming can be. Unlike my writing life, which tends to be solitary and which suits the hermit side of my personality very nicely, it turns out farming lends itself well to a more collective effort.

The massive round table in the Zero Mile Eatery at OUR Ecovillage was the perfect piece of furniture to facilitate the discussion about community farming...

The massive round table in the Zero Mile Eatery at OUR Ecovillage was the perfect piece of furniture to facilitate the discussion about community farming…

Work parties are a great excuse to get everyone together for a meal (and, yes, are a fabulous way to tackle a big project) and networking with other farmers is always both educational and reassuring. Not so long ago I took part in the Community Farms Roundtable up at OUR Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake. Organized by Young Agrarians and Farm Folk City Folk, the roundtable format brought together an eclectic group of farmers, land owners, policy makers, researchers, and foodies to discuss ways of bringing together farmers, land, and communities.

No job is too large, small, or cold for our long-suffering helper, MC.

No job is too large, small, or cold for our long-suffering helper, MC.

With agriculture being increasingly concentrated on larger farms, land prices rising, and older farmers retiring at an alarming rate, conversations like those had at the roundtable event have never been more important. How do we find ways to get young farmers onto the land? How do we connect communities with their local growers (it’s shocking how many miles food travels before it lands on the average dinner plate). And how do we ensure that governments at all levels protect farmland?

Here in our neighbourhood, all kinds of initiatives and shared projects have blossomed as various landowners have collaborated to share resources, labour, and land. My short presentation at the roundtable had a look at the informal model we’ve been using here in the ‘hood as we work together as a neighbourhood to grow food crops and raise eggs and meat on relatively small amounts of land.

Community farming can take many other forms including formal co-ops, collectively held land, and farms owned by various levels of government. There are also various programs that match young farmers with land owners who would like to see their land in production but who may not, for whatever reason, wish to farm themselves. Some programs include a strong teaching/mentorship component while others are more casual.

On our little farm, we’ve not only tapped into the local community we’ve also recently joined the fascinating world of being hosts to travelers looking for a place to stay in exchange for helping out around the place. There are several websites that help coordinate these partnerships. WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connect organic farms with those wanting to learn by doing on the land. Workaway and HelpX broaden the jobs list to include everything from childcare to office work to cooking, cleaning, and building projects. SOIL (Stewards of Irreplaceable Lands) has a strong teaching component and, like WWOOF, focusses on farming.

Our first two volunteers, both from Germany, have been nothing short of a godsend. From washing eggs, to sorting seeds, to building a new portable hog hut, they have cheerfully jumped in and set to work. Which, of course, has been marvelous – I am feeling much more optimistic that we might actually make some good headway on the never ending to-do list.

Mud? No problem...

Mud? No problem…

Ditch

The end result of a whole lot of digging was water running into the ditch rather than over the neighbor’s driveway! Much better!

What has been the biggest surprise, though, is how much fun it is to have all this youthful energy around! We’ve had interesting conversations over dinner every night as we hear about their experiences travelling and share a bit of our lives here on the farm. I am having a lot more fun than I expected (and I really, really hope our visitors are not finding it too bad to be here!!) The weather has been crappy, to say the least, and this has meant we’ve had to ask for help with some rather soggy and unpleasant jobs – like digging a ditch to channel water away from the neighbor’s garage. The grim job was completed in record time with lots of smiles, chatting, and good humour despite the miserable conditions.

Stay tuned for a future update on the progress on the new hog hut. MC is an engineering student, so unlike some of my more wobbly creations, this hog hut is square, strong, and beautiful!